Virtue & Mischief: Her heart still beats


This past Thursday morning I took a seat at a conference table in a room on the first floor of Keller Hall, the building which houses the University of Dayton School of Law. I laid out before me each of the reports from the different senior staff members who would be participating in our monthly meeting. As I exchanged pre-meeting pleasantries with various colleagues who were busy shuffling papers and sipping coffee, my cell phone vibrated in my pocket.

That’s odd, I thought. It must be important. I plucked the phone from my pocket and saw that the incoming call was from my sister, Susie. Odder still, for it is extremely rare for Susie to ring me up, particularly during the week and during normal work hours. I scurried into the hallway to see what was afoot.

“Hi, Susie. What’s going on? Are you okay?”

“Hi Tim. Oh, sure. Fine. Sorry to bother you. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

“Well, yeah, I guess. I’m getting ready for a meeting to start, but…what’s up?”

“Oh, not that much, really. Listen, umm, mom almost died last night, but she’s fine now. I just thought you should know.”

“Yeah, thanks for thinking of me. What do you mean ‘she almost died’?!?”

“Don’t freak! She’s great. She’s fine. I’m going over to the ICU now with dad to see her. It’s no big deal. I just thought I should, you know, keep you in the loop.”

“ICU? Don’t freak?” I tried to maintain some semblance of calm as my dear older sister began to sputter out a few helpful details.

“Okay, okay. So here’s what happened,” Susie continued. “Mom woke up late last night to go to the bathroom, but she couldn’t stand up. She roused dad and together they got a nurse from the other section of University Place [the retirement community where they live] to come to their apartment to check her out.”

“I’m with you so far. What then?”

“So the nurse come up and takes vitals and discovers that mom’s heart rate is all over the map, but mostly zombie-like slow. Like 20-25 beats per minute at one point.”

“Wow. Wow. How do you know zombies don’t have, you know, really fast heart beats? Or normal ones?”

Susie wisely ignored my galactically stupid and irreverent question and proceeded. “I gather they all determined that mom ought to go to the Emergency Room, but because it was so late at night—2:00 or 3:00 in the morning or so—dad shouldn’t be the one to transport her. So they called an ambulance and they delivered her to the hospital.”


“And after checking her out for a while, they determined she needed a pacemaker to solve her heartbeat ‘issues’. They put in a temporary one right away, and she’s supposed to have the, errrr, permanent one put in later this morning.”

“Sheeesh. That’s all?! Why’d you even bother calling me over something so picayune!?” I teased. “Seriously, thanks for letting me know.”

“No problem. I’ve already talked to her and she sounds fine, but I’ll text you when I learn anything more. She seems very confident that the next procedure is no big deal.”

We signed off and I mused about my mother’s lengthy and varied medical history: knee surgeries, shoulder surgeries, neck surgeries, back surgeries, lumpectomy, temporary colostomy, colostomy reversal, eye surgeries, and radiation treatment for breast cancer, to name just a few that came immediately to mind. She’s like a Timex watch, for Pete’s sake (for those younger than 50 or so, Timex ran a series of ads for many years whose tag line was “Timex: It takes a licking…and keeps on ticking!”). Now this.

A few hours later I called mom and caught her resting comfortably in her room.

“Hi, honey!” she chirped casually, like a matron enthusiastically greeting her only son while baking Christmas cookies in her kitchen. I reflexively wondered how this nearly 90 year old woman (forever my “mommy”), lying in a hospital bed after having an electrical device inserted into her chest with leads placed in her right atrium, right ventricle, and coronary sinus cavity, could be so chipper.

“Hi, mom! Wow. You sound great. How ya doin’?”

“Oh, fine,” she laughed. “Fine. I suppose you heard the whole story by now. Silliest thing. I woke up to go to the bathroom and I couldn’t get my stupid legs to support me! Oh, Tim, I tell you, old age is not for sissies.”

“So I hear.”

“But I’m fine now. When the doctor came in to do my procedure a few hours ago, I took one look at him and thought, ‘Oh, how nice! Little Phil is going to save my life!’”

“Little Phil” was a boy from the neighborhood, a year older than I, whom I grew up with, played football and basketball with, and made small-scale mischief with. Like many of my friends, “Little Phil” grew up to accomplish pretty big things, including preserving my mother’s earthly existence for a while.

“I’ll thank him next time I see him, mom. I’m so glad he managed to get through West Side High School and stay a step or two ahead of the authorities long enough to become a highly regarded cardiologist.”

“Yes, me too, dear. So tell me again when you, Krista, and the kids are coming to see us?!”

“Soon, mom. Very soon.”

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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